And it underscores the fact that Othello's proprietorial relationship with Desdemona as husband and wife is typical – that it’s extraordinary only in the fatal consequences it leads to in this particular case, not in its essential character.
In a vain attempt to placate Brabantio, the Duke assures him that ‘If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black’ (1.3.289–90).
So endemic to Venetian culture are such attitudes that Othello and Desdemona can’t help absorbing them too: ‘I saw Othello’s visage in his mind’ (1.3.252), Desdemona declares to the Senate, oblivious to the unintended insult that brave declaration implies.
Shakespeare makes it plain from the start that it’s not just Iago the newly-weds are up against, but the status quo and a view of the world which Iago merely embodies in its most lethal form.
For it’s not just Iago whose speech is infected with contempt for ‘the Moor’ (as he repeatedly refers to Othello), though the intensity of his loathing is unrivalled.
Above all, Iago himself betrays the same toxic disposition, when he fastens automatically on sexual jealousy as a pretext for provoking it in Othello and revenging himself on Cassio: ‘I do suspect the lusty Moor / Hath leap’d into my seat; the thought whereof / Doth (like a poisonous mineral), gnaw my inwards’; ‘I fear Cassio with my night-cap too’ (2.1.295–7, 307).
Although none of them is as consumed by jealousy as Othello, all these characters fall prey like him to ‘the green-eyed monster’ (3.3.166) that stalks any society in which the sexual desire of one human being is regarded as the property of another.When Emilia begs him to deny that he duped Othello into murdering Desdemona, Iago replies: ‘I told him what I thought, and told no more / Than what he found himself was apt and true’ (5.2.176-7).And when Othello asks Cassio to ‘demand that demi-devil / Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body’, Iago brusquely interjects: ‘Demand me nothing; what you know, you know’ (5.2.301-3).Roderigo’s infatuation with Desdemona makes him intensely jealous of both Othello and Cassio.The same emotion flares up in Bianca, when Cassio gives her Desdemona’s handkerchief: ‘You are jealous now’, says Cassio, ‘That this is from some mistress, some remembrance’ (3.4.185–6).As Iago sees it, a black African has had the gall to court and marry a white Venetian beauty as if he were the equal of a man of her class and colour.And she has had the gall to prefer ‘a lascivious Moor’ (1.1.126) to her own kind and defiantly proclaim her love for this ‘erring barbarian’ (1.3.355-6) in public.When Othello’s faith in Desdemona’s love for him begins to crumble, his complexion is the first thing he blames: ‘Haply, for I am black, / And have not those soft parts of conversation / That chamberers have’ (3.3.263–5).And he instinctively employs his own blackness as a metaphor for his wife’s alleged depravity: ‘Her name, that was as fresh / As Dian's visage, is now begrim'd and black / As mine own face’ (3.3.386–8) The grounds of the tragedy can’t be fully explained, however, by pointing to the deep-seated racism that poisons the Venetian view of Othello and even Othello's view of himself. The basic idea of the play is so well known that it’s easy to forget the startling boldness of Shakespeare’s decision to take Cinthio’s brief tale of a doomed mixed-race marriage and transform it into a heart-breaking tragedy.In a country where few people outside London would ever have seen a black person, and centuries before the problems that fuel the tragedy became as ubiquitous and pressing as they are today, Shakespeare produced in The tragic sequence of events is triggered by the elopement of Othello and Desdemona.